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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 24

Introduction

ISAAC’S MARRIAGE, Genesis 24:1-67.

After the death of Sarah, the house of Abraham was left in gloom. He appears to have removed again into the south country, and was now probably dwelling near Beer-sheba. See on Genesis 24:62. Two years or more elapsed, and then the growing age of Abraham, and the loneliness of his home, prompted him to seek for his son Isaac a wife, that Sarah’s vacant tent might again be filled, and both he and Isaac comforted. See Genesis 24:67. Besides the inimitable beauty of this narrative, the attentive reader should note the following things: 1) The authority of parents and the elder brother in negotiating marriages. 2) The chief servant is the go-between, or mediator and manager, of such affairs for a princely family. 3) Marriage of cousins, or blood-kindred, rather than strangers. 4) Careful consideration of religious affinity and its influence on the posterity. 5) The marriage union cemented by mutual love.

Verse 1

1. Well stricken in age Hebrews, gone into days; that is, far advanced in years . Being ten years older than Sarah, he was one hundred and thirty-seven at her death. And yet thirty-years of life are before him. Comp. Genesis 25:7.

Verse 2

2. His eldest servant of his house Hebrews, his servant, the elder of his house . The word elder is here to be understood as an official title; the overseer, steward, prime minister of the household, who ruled over all that he had; had charge of all . The person was probably the Eliezer of Damascus, mentioned in Genesis 15:2. See note there .

Why hand under my thigh The thigh ( ירךְ ) is here used euphemistically for the genital member, regarded among the patriarchs as the most sacred part of the body . Compare, also, Genesis 47:29. “This member,” says Ginsburg, “was the symbol of union in the tenderest relation of matrimonial life, and the seat whence all issue proceeds, and the perpetuity so much coveted by the ancients . Compare the phrase יוצאי ירךְ , ‘coming out of the loins,’ (Hebrews, issues of the thigh,) in Genesis 46:26; Exodus 1:5; Judges 8:30. Hence the creative organ became the Symbol of the Creator, and the object of worship among all nations of antiquity; and it is for this reason that God claimed it as the sign of the covenant between himself and his chosen people in the rite of circumcision. Nothing, therefore, could render the oath more solemn in those days than touching the symbol of creation, the sign of the covenant, and the source of that issue who may, at any future period, avenge the breaking of the compact made with their progenitor. To this effect is the explanation of the Midrash, the Chaldee paraphrase of Jonathan ben Uzziel, Rashi, and the oldest Jewish expositors.” See KITTO’S Biblical Cyclopaedia, Art., Oath.

Verse 3

3. Swear by the Lord To the sacredness of the manner of the oath is added the solemnity of this use of the holy NAME . This servant must swear by Jehovah, God of the heavens and God of the earth . Thus Abraham puts him under the most solemn oath that could then bind the conscience of a man .

Not… of the Canaanites Lot’s case might have been a sufficient warning, and the idolatries and growing iniquity of the Amorites, though not yet full, (Genesis 15:16,) were plainly such as to show the pious patriarch the fearful danger of matrimonial alliances with them . Here we note the ancient enforcing of the principle of the apostolic precept: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers . ” 2 Corinthians 6:14. What sorrows and soul-losses have followed from such unhallowed unions!

Verse 5

5. The servant said He was cautious and far-sighted, and before taking on himself so solemn an oath he will have an understanding about all contingencies .

Verse 6

6. Beware Whatever hinderances come, in no case will Abraham allow his son to go back to the land from which he himself had been called .

Verse 7

7. He shall send his angel before thee Abraham is confident that the Angel of the Covenant (see note on Genesis 16:7) will prepare his servant’s way . Too many have been the divine interpositions for him now to doubt . He is perfectly willing to rest with the understanding that if the woman be unwilling, his servant shall be released from his oath .

Verse 10

10. Ten camels A considerable caravan would be necessary for a safe and comfortable journey from Beer-sheba to Haran and back . Besides, presents for the bride and her family, (Genesis 24:53,) and suitable accommodation for bringing the bride to her husband, were to be taken along . The careful and accomplished steward, who had charge of all the goods of his master, would not fail to see that his important mission was carried out with every possible propriety.

Mesopotamia This is the Greek and Roman name of the great region lying between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, and called in Hebrew Aram-Naharaim, or Aram of the two rivers. The same region is called Padan-Aram in Genesis 25:20, and frequently elsewhere; though, perhaps, the latter term designates a more limited portion of Aram-Naharaim, in which Haran, the city of Nahor, was located . See on Genesis 11:31. To this city Nahor had probably migrated soon after his father and brother had settled there .

Verse 11

11. He made his camels to kneel “A mode of expression taken from actual life . The action is literally kneeling, and this the camel is taught to do from its youth . The place is said to have been by a well of water, and this well was outside the city . In the East, where wells are scarce, and water indispensable, the existence of a well or fountain determines the site of a village . The people build near it, but prefer to have it outside of the city, to avoid the noise, dust, and confusion always occurring at it, and especially if the place is on the public highway. It is around the fountain that the thirsty traveller and the weary caravan assemble; and if you have become separated from your own company before arriving at a town, you need only inquire for the fountain, and there you will find them. It was perfectly natural, therefore, for Eliezer to halt at the well.

The time was evening, when women go out to draw water True to life again. At that hour the peasant returns home from his labour, and the women are busy preparing the evening meal, which is to be ready at sunset. Cool fresh water is then demanded, and, of course, there is a great concourse around the well. About great cities men often carry water, both on donkeys and on their own backs; but in the country, among the unsophisticated natives, women only go to the well or the fountain; and often, when travelling, have I seen long files of them going and returning with their pitchers ‘at the time when women go out to draw water.’” THOMSON, Land and Book, vol. ii, p. 404.

Verse 12

12. Lord… send me good speed Or, cause it to happen before me today . This prayer is one of remarkable simplicity and directness, but in it note the following: 1) The use of the name Jehovah . 2) The appeal to Abraham’s God . 3) The urging of the case as Abraham’s interest . 4) The implied faith that all his success in this undertaking must come from God .

5) The request for a special sign. 6) The child-like simplicity which designates the very form and language in which the sign shall be given. 7) The consequent knowledge of God’s favour with which he will be blessed.

Verse 15

15. Before he had done speaking Speedily is that prayer of child-like faith and simplicity answered .

Rebekah Her name has already appeared in the genealogy of Genesis 22:20-24.

Pitcher upon her shoulder The usual mode of carrying the water pitcher in Syria .

Verse 16

16. Went down to the well The water, perhaps, was reached, as is often the case, by a flight of steps . Hence the use of the terms going down and coming up .

Verse 17

17. The servant ran To him the fair young virgin appears all that he had desired and hoped to meet .

Verse 20

20. Drew for all his camels “I have never found any young lady so generous as this fair daughter of Bethuel . She drew for all his camels, and for nothing, while I have often found it difficult to get my horse watered even for money . Rebekah emptied her pitcher into the trough, an article always found about wells, and frequently made of stone . ” Thomson .

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Verse 21

21. Wondering Literally, and the man [stood] gazing at her and keeping silence to know whether Jehovah had prospered his journey or not . He is anxious now to know if this damsel be of Abraham’s kindred, and will go with him to his master . Can it be that his prayer is to be so speedily answered?

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Verse 22

22. Earring נזם is generally believed to have been a nose ring, for in Genesis 24:47 he is said to have put it on her face; Hebrews, nose ( א Š . )

Bracelets All sorts of jewels are highly prized among the women of the East, and rings, bracelets, or ornaments of some kind, such as each person can afford or obtain, are universally worn . The weight of this ring, half a shekel, or a beka, has been estimated at a quarter of an ounce, and the bracelets at over four ounces . But our knowledge of these ancient weights is very uncertain .

Verse 27

27. Blessed be the Lord The aged servant is now convinced that Jehovah has heard his prayer, and directed his steps, and he breaks out in thanksgiving .

Verse 28

28. Her mother’s house The daughter naturally runs to her mother’s tent to tell the news . But not so Rachel . See Genesis 29:12.

Verse 29

29. Laban Note the prominence of Laban in all this interview . He is more prominent than his father, or even than his mother . He goes out to meet the servant of Abraham; he gives the usual blessing and hospitable welcome . Genesis 24:31. Bethuel is mentioned in Genesis 24:50, but second to Laban, and in Genesis 24:53; Genesis 24:55, the brother and mother are mentioned, but not the father, and in Genesis 24:59-60 Rebekah is called “their sister” and “our sister,” rather than daughter. Some explain

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all this as springing from a prominence and authority which the oldest son is supposed to have in the East; but others point, farther, to Genesis 29:5, where Laban is called the son of Nahor, and Bethuel is passed over as if he were a person of no account, and argue that this consistent and uniform ignoring of Rebekah’s father is designed. Laban is not thus ignored and his sons made prominent in the marriage of Rachel and Leah, Chap. 29. It has been suggested that some weakness or imbecility rendered Bethuel incapable of managing his own affairs. This Blunt places among the remarkable coincidences of the Bible, and remarks: “The consistency is too much of one piece throughout, and marked by too many particulars, to be accidental. It is the consistency of a man who knew more about Bethuel than we do, or than he happened to let drop from his pen. This kind of consistency I look upon as beyond the reach of the most subtle contriver in the world.”

Verse 30

30. When he saw… and when he heard What he saw and heard, no doubt, had special influence on his action, and made the blessings and welcome (of Genesis 24:31) doubly emphatic .

Verse 33

33. I will not eat Too important is his errand to be delayed until after the ceremonies of hospitality are over . Genesis 24:34.

And he said This address of Abraham’s servant (Genesis 24:34-39) is a masterpiece of its kind . It is a narrative, says Kalisch, “graced by every charm of simplicity, rivalling the most beautiful episodes of the Homeric writings, and pervaded by a beautiful spirit of sustained calmness . The repetitions which it contains are like the echo of truth; and the measured step by which it advances, carries it to its aim with enhanced dignity . ”

Verse 50

50. Proceedeth from the Lord They cannot doubt the special providence of Abraham’s God, and they dare not interfere to favour or oppose .

Verse 53

53. Jewels of silver Rather, vessels of silver . Costly presents from the great accumulations of Abraham, amassed through many years . Comp . Genesis 13:2; Genesis 20:16.

Precious things Choice gifts of various kinds, such as he knew would be pleasing .

Verse 56

56. Hinder me not The servant is too anxious to break the glad news of his success to his master .

Verse 58

58. Wilt thou go This question was not whether she would accept Isaac in marriage; that had been already settled by those who, according to Oriental customs, had that power, and Rebekah, doubtless, was convinced as well as her parents and brother, that God’s hand was in it . But this question meant, Wilt thou go with this man now, or wait a longer time between the espousal and the marriage?

Verse 59

59. They sent… their sister Special reference to Laban and the younger members of the household .

Her nurse Deborah, who died long after and was buried at Bethel . Genesis 35:8.

Verse 60

60. Blessed Rebekah This parting blessing rises to the poetic fervor of a song, and may be put as follows:

And they blessed Rebekah,

And they said unto her,

Our sister art thou .

Be thou [increased] to thousands of myriads,

And let thy seed possess the gate of them that hate him .

The signal interpositions of Jehovah inspire them with a presentiment of Rebekah’s future honour.

Verse 61

61. Her damsels Besides her especial nurse, (Genesis 24:59,) she was accompanied by other maidservants, as became one of her state and dignity .

Verse 62

62. Came from the way of the well Better, came from going to Beer-lahai-roi. After Sarah’s death it is probable that Abraham and Isaac removed to Beer-sheba, for it is here said that now he dwelt in the south country, which would scarcely be so stated if he were still dwelling at Hebron. While the chief servant was away in Mesopotamia Isaac made a journey to Beer-lahai-roi, the place in the farther south where the angel appeared to Hagar. Genesis 16:14. He went, probably, to look after the flocks and herds in that region, and had now just returned .

Verse 63

63. Went out to meditate Some uncertainty hangs over the word שׂוח , here rendered meditate. The Syriac renders it walk, and Gesenius observes that “this is almost demanded by the nature of the context,” and suggests that the true reading may have been שׁושׂ , to go to and fro . The Targums, Samaritan and Arabic, read to pray . Knobel and Lange render, to lament, and suppose that he went out alone to lament the death of his mother . But שׂוח is probably equivalent to שׂיח , to talk (with one’s self;) to meditate; and our common version, which follows substantially the Septuagint, Aquilla, and the Vulgate, gives the true meaning . There is something beautiful and appropriate in the thought of this heir of the promises going out to meditate in the field at the eventide, and filled, doubtless, with anxious thoughts about the mission of his aged servant .

Verse 64

64. She lighted off the camel Literally, and she fell from off the camel . The expression denotes the rapidity with which she threw herself from the camel at sight of Isaac, whom she, probably at once, more than suspected to be her future husband. Dr. Thomson says: “The behaviour of Rebekah, when about to meet Isaac, was such as modern etiquette requires. It is customary for both men and women, when an emeer, or great personage, is approaching, to alight some time before he comes up with them. Women frequently refuse to ride in the presence of men, and when a company of them are to pass through a town, they often dismount and walk. It was, no doubt, a point of Syrian etiquette for Rebekah to stop, descend from her camel, and cover herself with a vail in the presence of her future husband. In a word, this biblical narrative is so natural to one familiar with the East, so beautiful, also, and lifelike, that the entire scene seems to be an affair in which he has himself been but recently an actor.”

Verse 65

65. For she had said Rather, and she said . There is no need of interpolating had in either of the two places in which it occurs in this verse .

Took a vail Hebrews, took the vail; the vail proper to be used in such a case, “the long cloak-like vail, with which the Eastern women covered their faces . ”

Verse 67

67. Into his mother Sarah’s tent The tent which had been her special apartment and home during many years of nomadic life . This tent had probably been removed after Sarah’s death to Beer-sheba . See on Genesis 24:62.

Took… wife… loved Under the circumstances and customs of that time, no other formal marriage ceremony was required than this leading her, in loving attachment, into the tent. Thus the vacant home place was filled with another mistress, and Sarah’s loss less keenly felt.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 24". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-24.html. 1874-1909.